Monday, April 22, 2013

Lviv Ukraine Travel Adventures!

During my second week of Spring Break (that's right, here you get two or three weeks), I decided to make a trip to Ukraine. The sole reason for this trip was an awesome Eastern European adventure. Ukraine is a former Soviet Republic. All I knew about Ukraine before my visit was Holodomor, the kick ass Antonov An-225 and the IMF bailout. I wanted to learn more about its contemporary culture. Given my limited budget and time, I decided against heading to Ukraine's capital Kiev during their harsh winter. Instead I opted for Ukraine's western cultural capital Lviv. So I took off with Chloe and the adventure began!

Apart from our bus breaking down, being held up at the border for hours and being dropped off in the middle of no where, it was a fun start. A friend told me that most Ukrainian experience I will have is driving on Ukrainian roads and she was not kidding. That coupled with a city bus that was filled to the brim with people while the bus driver counted fares made for an uneasy ride.
Lviv Protest
I found paying the bus fare to be an interesting experience. When
you got on the bus you passed your money forward to the bus driver
via other passengers and if need be, the bus driver would send back your
change via other passengers. Pretty cool!

The town itself was a pleasant surprise! Even with my limited student budget I was still able to experience the city's bars and gastronomic delights. The first place I went to after arriving was Coffee Manufacture. The waiter recommended I try a local specialty since it was my first time in Lviv. I was served Lviv Style Coffee (Кава по-львівськи) which included a strong cup of cappuccino in a metal cup with a shot of apple liquor on the side. It was surprisingly tasty!

That evening, Chloe and I ventured to a bar my brother Tom recommended called Kraivka. This place was madness! To enter this partisan styled bar, you need to say the password 'Slava Ukraini' or 'Glory to Ukraine' to the man at the door manning a fake sub machine gun otherwise you are not let in. Inside looks like a bunker with various activities to do! While you are waiting for your order, you can dress up in military uniform and go play target practice with Stalin's face using BB guns. The alcohols also proved to be quite interesting ranging from honey liquor to a liquor made of hops. Though it was a Ukrainian nationalist theme with an anti Russian undertone, it was all in good fun and even Russians in the bar were enjoying themselves. Nearing the end of the evening a Ukrainian kapela came out and played!

Lviv Book Market
Just when we though it could not get either more bizarre or awesome, we went to Mazoh's cafe. This place was named after the Austrian writer born in Lviv (then Lemberg) Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The term masochism (deriving sexual pleasure from the pain of others) is derived from his last name, so we knew we were in for something weird. When we walked in we heard the sound of someone screaming in agony. The place was covered in anything you may need for masochistic entertainment from leather whips to handcuffs.  The agonizing yelling came from someone getting whipped by the waitress after being served. After each whip, the waitress makes you say something silly like 'yeehaw' or 'meow, meow' to ridicule you. I was even told that natural aphrodisiacs were added to the food that was served!

Mazoh's Cafe
Further along in our adventure I learned that the kerosene lamp was invented in Lviv in 1853. To commemorate this, there is a museum and restaurant called Gazova Lampa (Gas Lamp) located in the middle of the town. Here we had our going away beer with a pickled beer platter where even the tomatoes were pickled! The menu had good Ukrainian food and a spectacular city view I would definitely recommend.

The Hipster scene is also alive and well in this town. Going to the bar House of Legends reminded me of some of the cafes and bars on Queen Street in Toronto. The room we sat in was artistically dedicated to the cobblestones in Lviv, and not in a historic way. There was a digital display running with the number of stones on the street while old communist shows intertwined with a 90's cooking show played on the TV to Ukrainian folk music. Other rooms had other random themes. In the summer you can sit an old communist car on the roof and get a view of the city while drinking. The real shame is I never had a chance to go to the Jewish bar across the street called The Golden Rose (Pid Zolotoju Rozu) where there were no prices,
you had to haggle to settle your bill. My finance education could have come to practical use!

To wrap up, Lviv is an awesome place to visit. If you have the patience to deal with long border wait times (almost four hours at 3am), a trip to Ukraine is particularly appealing on a student budget. The people were friendly and it always felt safe. I would like to send out a huge thank you to Volodymyr and his friends for allowing us to CouchSurf and showing us around!



  1. Thanks for sharing I was there few years ago I think Lviv is the great place to spend your holidays, there are a lot of museums and monuments, as for me the best time to visit Ukraine its spring, if you want to create a route to visit Ukraine you can check the prices on ht there are a lot of useful information for tourist, hope it will be useful for you. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Frank! During my time there I found very useful as well. And no doubt the spring is fantastic there!